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Virginia CZM Program: 2011 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



 Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Project Title:

Kiptopeke Habitat Management & Education on the Southern Tip 

Project Description as Proposed:


Located on the Southern Tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Kiptopeke State Park is a popular state park with annual visitation of approximately 300,000 visitors annually.  Kiptopeke State Park provides integral stopover habitat for the millions of neotropical and temperate migrants that funnel through the Delmarva Peninsula annually during fall migration.  Approximately 150 acres of agricultural land at Kiptopeke State Park has been restored since 2003.  These areas were planted with a diverse mix of plant species that will provide a structurally and compositionally diverse forest with a significant proportion of hardwood species and soft-mast producers, so that the energetic benefit to migrants from plant and insect food items is maximized throughout the fall migration period. Although many fruit producing shrubs provided immediate food for the migrants, most of these areas have been inundated with the natural recruitment of loblolly pines.  These pines have developed into a thick canopy preventing use of these areas by the migrant bird populations.  A large deer population is also using these thick pine infested areas for food and cover, threatening the viability of these species that were planted for the migratory bird population. The park’s location and popularity also make it a prime place to bring together habitat restoration projects and education programs related to the benefits of habitat management.


This four-part integrated project, “Kiptopeke Habitat Management & Education on the Southern Tip” layers together habitat management of previously restored agricultural fields, management of the park’s deer population, an education program designed to engage the public to create an understanding of the value of land management and its positive impact on specific species, and includes repairs to the park’s Hawk observation platform, an important aspect of the park’s education and research programming.


1.     Pine Thinning to Restore Shrub and Hardwood Species

Management of the park’s former agricultural fields is key to maximizing their value as migratory songbird habitat. Left unmanaged, some of these areas are being overtaken by loblolly pines that impede the growth of fruit-bearing shrubs and hardwood trees that create a food-rich wooded stopover for the neotropical and temperate migratory songbirds species that use the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore during migration. Thinning the pine on these acres will allow sunlight to penetrate and create an opportunity for a more diverse and food-rich understory to grow.  The site plan map indicates areas where dense stands of young pine will be thinned. 


2.     Deer Management to Protect Shrub and Hardwood Species

Kiptopeke State Park conducts approximately 6-10 days of managed deer hunts in the maritime upland forest at the park annually in order to control vegetation damage and maintain a healthy white-tail deer population.  Deer prefer the young, tender tree and shrub vegetation that we are attempting to restore. Currently, the park does not have free-standing portable deer stands in the restoration areas to control the deer population in these areas.  By placing seven 16’ tall deer stands within the restoration area, the park will be able to put hunting pressure in these areas to control the damage to the restoration species from deer browse. Placement of the portable deer stands will occur after the pines have been thinned from the area.  Due to the thickness of the pine trees and the lack of tall trees for which to place deer stands, the park is currently unable to safely allow hunting in these restoration areas.  The use of portable stands is necessary to control the deer population in these areas. 


3.     Educational Program

As a popular state park, Kiptopeke State Park has the unique opportunity to educate its visitors about the importance of habitat management and land restoration to maximize wildlife potential.  Two Education Specialists will offer interpretive programs related to migratory birds, raptors, habitat, wildlife, and coastal zone management throughout the grant period focusing on late Spring, Summer, and early Fall when visitation is highest.  By offering education programs, the park hopes to garner continued support of restoration projects by the general public and help them create a personal stewardship ethic related to wildlife and land management. 


4.     Hawk Observation Platform Repairs & Signage

Repairs to the park’s Hawk Observation Platform (originally built in 1994 with Virginia CZM and other funds) are key to giving the general public a “bird’s eye” view of the restored area and the types of migrating and year-round raptors that live in the park.  Kiptopeke State Park has a long-standing partnership with Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory (CVWO) that conducts school programs, research studies, and bird counts from the Hawk Observatory Platform.  After twenty years of continuous use, the platform is in disrepair and can no longer safely accommodate large groups or educational classes. This project will provide funds to replace wood planks and stringers with recycled plastic lumber where appropriate. Signs placed at the Hawk Observatory Platform and within the restoration area will educate visitors when park-led programming is not available.  A total of 5 signs will be placed in the habitat restoration, wildlife management, and Hawk Observatory platform areas.


Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Forrest Gladden, 757.331.3402; 

Project Status:

4/1/2013 - 9/30/2013; Project Completed 

Final Product Received:

Kiptopeke Habitat Management & Education Grant Final Report (PDF) 

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

-Thinned pines on 9.9 acres (exceeding grant requirement by 1.2 acres)

-Over 300 interpretive programs with nearly 3,000 participants

-Installed seven 16’ deer stands resulting in 37 deer taken over 4 days of  hunting

-Major repairs to the Hawk Observatory with installation of interpretive signage

-Planting of six migratory bird micro habitats at each six-bedroom lodge


Kiptopeke State Park is a 562-acre state park located on the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Bordering the Chesapeake Bay, the park is a mix of coastal forest and former agricultural land that is being managed to accelerate natural succession to coastal forest.  Balancing its conservation mission, the park also features a 200+ site campground, six 6-bedroom cabins, a yurt, bunkhouse, swimming beach and fishing pier.  The park’s recreational opportunities coupled with its conservation mission provide an excellent opportunity to introduce the public to issues and outcomes related to habitat management, deer management, and migratory bird stewardship. 


Since the deliverables for this grant project were mostly hands-on, a brief overview of how each project was approach may help future grantees in managing similar projects.


Pine Thinning:  In years past, the park has received grant funding to accelerate the natural succession of farm land to coastal forest by planting hardwood species that provide habitat for migratory songbirds.  However, the natural recruitment of pines has started choking out the hardwoods, resulting in a need to clear the pines to improve the survival rate of the hardwoods and create more migratory birding habitat in the long term.  The original plan was to start this project in early spring to minimize the effects of heat and humidity on park staff.  However, delays in executing and finalizing funding as well hiring staff and hosting appropriate chainsaw training meant that pine thinning started in July creating unfavorable working conditions and further contributing to staff turnover.  Pine thinning was completed in November.  While the park exceeded the total acreage of pines thinned by 1.2 acres for a total of 9.9 acres, the project revealed that the thickness and density of the pines is such that additional pine thinning should occur in the park to continually improve habitat.  Future projects should include funding to contract out the pine thinning rather than use park staff due to the difficult nature of the work and specialized training needed.

Deer Management:  Seven16’ deer stands were installed in the park to improve deer harvest during managed hunts.  The deer stand resulted in a total of 37 deer taken over 4 days of hunting and significant improvement over the 26 deer taken during 7 days of hunting in 2012.  It is clear that over the years, the installation of these deer stands will significantly reduce the deer population and mitigate the effects of deer browse on shrubs and trees. The portable use of the stands will allow park management to relocate the stands as needed to provide hunting pressure throughout the restoration fields.

Education Programs:  The grant funds allowed the park to offer a full complement of interpretive programs related to migratory birds, wetlands management, coastal management, water quality, species identification, and water-based recreation to the visiting public. The cumulative effect of these interpretive programs is that the visiting public begins to develop a stewardship ethic and begins to advocate for and understand conservation-based projects.  Several new interpretive signs are being installed near the playground and hawk observatory to further help the public understand migratory birds and habitat management.

Hawk Observatory Repairs:  Due to decreased funds over the last few years, the park’s hawk observatory platform had fallen into disrepair.  This grant provided funds to repair joists, handrails, and platforms to allow for more public programs and hawk counts in the future.

Lodge Micro Habitats:  Due to tight management of funds, an additional deliverable of planting six migratory bird habitats was added to the project.  Designed to provide an opportunity for lodge guests to observe migratory songbirds on site, the micro habitats included a mix of trees and shrubs providing spring and fall food sources for the migratory songbirds.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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